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BBC – Future – How to change your habits

We often think that self-control comes from within, yet many of our actions depend just as much on our friends and family as ourselves.

This is not simply peer pressure, in which you deliberately act in a certain way to fit in with the group. Instead, it is largely unconscious. Beneath your awareness, your brain is constantly picking up on cues from the people around you to inform your behavior. And the consequences can be serious.

It is now well accepted that our personal sense of self is derived from other people. Amber Gaffney, a social psychologist from Humboldt State University, says: "The more of your identity you draw from a group, the more likely you are to uphold those values. "If you are as good as a student of a certain university, or like me, then that's what you take with you. Students, for instance, tend to be more attentive towards things like legalizing drugs or supporting environmental sustainability than the rest of the population.

These are called social norms. And while these norms are usually stable, some interesting things happen to be just one person in the associated group acts out of character.

Consider the following study, which found that they were likely to change

The Humboldt State University students reside in a small, socially liberal town in Northern California which takes pride in its environmental credentials. The students there are very conscious, too.

After listening to an interview with a student at the university who is stressed the importance of walking or cycling, rather than taking a car, and then later admitting to drive to the interview, the participants were asked about their own environmental views. They did this while sat next to an actor. The actor took on the role of a university student in a sweatshirt, or a professional in smart clothing.

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How the participants judged the importance of walking or cycling short distances what are they on? When they share their thoughts, they share their environmental values, the participants reiterated the importance of cycling. When sat with an outsider it was not so clear cut.

To outsiders who comment on the hypocrisy of the interviewee elicited the strongest environmental feelings in the participants. By defending the interviewee from criticism, they are reassuring their own view. This is because they felt the interviewee might normally be more responsible. Conversely, the participants stayed calm, the participants judged the importance of cycling the lowest. So, how about outsourced judges our peers has a big impact on whether or not it's up to you. "

" This was an interesting study, "adds Gaffney," because we were not able to make any people care less about the environment.

In the face of criticism by a stranger, we might come to the aid of our peers. We interpret the hypocritical behavior as a sign that we can relax our own views.

"Vicarious dissonance is when you see someone behave in a way inconsistent with your attitudes, so you change your attitudes," says Gaffney. "I should be embarrassed by seeing you act in a non-environmental way, but that does not always happen. I do not necessarily start copying you, but I want to change my attitudes to reflect your behavior because I like you to an extension of myself. "

This study was inspired by several pieces of work in Australia on vicarious dissonance around sun protection use. Again, someone acting hypocritically would relax people's attitudes, where the norm is to be extremely vigilant.

How we talk about our health choices? Talking about an anti-smoking campaign with friends reduced people's cigarette intake, perhaps because those conversations gave smokers the opportunity to work out which information was most relevant to their lifestyles ̵

1; and then act on it.

"The leading cause of death is preventable health behaviors like smoking and obesity, and we still have a lot of information." Still do not exercise, "says Christin Scholz of the University of Amsterdam. "Anything our friends do in ways that we are conscious of or not.

Scholz asked college students in the US if they were talking to anyone about a recent experience involving alcohol, and whether they were positive or negative. If they had talked about alcohol consumption they were more likely to drink the next day, and vice versa.

When we make decisions are constantly reassessing the value we might get from each choice – a process called value maximization. We have been in our building for a couple of days, and have been walking in the building with our triathlete colleague. No effect of a conversation with friends. And that's why our willpower fluctuates.

"Say I have a conversation with you." has some form of influence on me, "says Scholz. "However, it's a pretty simple representation of human decision making. We're not always [very] rational – we make these decisions pretty quickly. The importance of certain types of information changes through the day. "

We have asked the question, how those people, any conversions we have had and our fundamental understanding of what is normal for that group of friends. But, if we're still in doubt, the easiest thing to do is to look at what others are doing and copy them.

When we eat with people who eat a lot, we eat more

"When we eat with others, we have a lot of people." behavior as a guide, "says Suzanne Higgs, who studies the psychobiology of appetite at the University of Birmingham. We have a lot, we eat more. People are not aware of how they are.

The phenomenon was first described based on the analysis of food diaries by John de Castro in the 1980s. These detailed diaries listed what people ate, but where, when and who with. In the meantime, in the meantime, the amount of food consumed has become more or less conservative.

laboratories. It appears to happen even when you are with another friend in a very controlled environment.

Higgs suggests the presence of another person clouds our ability to pick up on cues from our bodies. The normal process of feeling is disrupted by feeling stimulated by our friends.

Next, Higgs took her into the field to see if it behaved by other social cues. Diners using posters. "Vegetables are good for you, does not work," says Higgs. Instead, the poster displayed fabricated data about which side. Higgs put a vegetable on the top.

"These posters just described the behavior of other people – and that's enough for some," says Higgs. "When we enter a new environment, we look for cues about how to behave. So, to see that a certain choice is the most popular really helps out. "

The effect was seen even after the posters were taken down. Higgs had created a new norm.

"There's a good reason to believe that when we use normative behavior it makes us feel good because of a social group," says Higgs. "If you are with a new social group, you are more likely to imitate behaviors."

Our decisions may not always be in our hands. But this means we can use our influence for good. "The same way a negative behavior can spread through a network of people is a positive one can spread through a network," says Scholz. William Park is @williamhpark on Twitter. Javier Hirschfeld

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